At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

30 April 2019

30 April

Luigi Russolo – painter and composer


Futurist artist who invented 'noise music'

Luigi Russolo, who is regarded as the first ‘noise music’ composer, was born on this day in 1885 in Portogruaro in the Veneto.  Russolo originally chose to become a painter and went to live in Milan where he met and was influenced by other artists in the Futurist movement.  Along with other leading figures in the movement, such as Carlo Carrà, he signed both the Manifesto of Futurist Painters and the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting as the artists set out how they saw Futurism being represented on canvas, and afterwards participated in Futurist art exhibitions.  Russolo issued his own manifesto, L’arte dei rumori, - The Art of Noises - in 1913, which he expanded into book form in 1916.  He stated that the industrial revolution had given modern man a greater capacity to appreciate more complex sounds. He found traditional, melodic music confining and envisioned noise music replacing it in the future.  Read more…

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Andrea Dandolo - Doge of Venice


Reign tested by earthquake, plague and war

Andrea Dandolo, the fourth member of a patrician Venetian family to serve as Doge of the historic Republic, was born on this day in 1306.  A notably erudite scholar, Dandolo wrote two chronicles of the history of Venice in Latin and reformed the Venetian legal code by bringing together all of the diverse laws applicable to the Venetian Republic within one legal framework.  He achieved these things despite his reign being marked by a devastating earthquake, a catastrophic outbreak of the Black Death plague and two expensive wars, against Hungary and then Genoa.  Dandolo was appointed Procurator of St Mark’s Basilica, the second most prestigious position in the Venetian hierarchy after the Doge, at the age of just 25.  He was elected Doge in 1343, aged 37.  It was a particularly young age at which to be given the leadership of the Republic, but his family history and the manner in which had conducted himself as Procurator gained the respect of the republic’s aristocratic elders.  Read more…

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Pope Pius V - Saint


Pontiff dismissed jester and clamped down on heretics

The feast day of Saint Pius V is celebrated every year on this day, the day before the anniversary of his death in 1572 in Rome.  Saint Pius V, who became Pope in 1566, is remembered chiefly for his role in the Counter Reformation, the period of Catholic resurgence following the Protestant Reformation.  He excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I of England for heresy and for persecuting English Catholics and he formed the Holy League, an alliance of Catholic states against the Turks.  Saint Pius V was born Antonio Ghislieri in Bosco, now Bosco Marengo, in Piedmont. He became a bishop under Pope Pius IV but after opposing the pontiff was dismissed. After the death of Pius IV, Ghislieri was elected Pope Pius V in 1566. His first act on becoming Pope was to dismiss the court jester and no Pope has had one since.  Read more…

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29 April 2019

29 April


Rafael Sabatini - novelist


Author of swashbucklers had the ‘gift of laughter’

Rafael Sabatini, who wrote successful adventure novels that were later made into plays and films, was born on this day in 1875 in Iesi, a small town in the province of Ancona in Le Marche.  Sabatini was the author of the international best sellers, Scaramouche and Captain Blood, and afterwards became respected as a great writer of swashbucklers with a prolific output.  The son of an English mother, Anna Trafford, and an Italian father, Vincenzo Sabatini, who were both opera singers, Sabatini went to live in England at the age of 17, where he began to write short stories. Some were published in English magazines. His first novel was published in 1902, but it took him about 25 years of hard work before Scaramouche became a big success. Sabatini suffered personal tragedy twice in his life but when he died in Switzerland in 1950 his widow had the first line of Scaramouche inscribed on his headstone: ‘He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.’ Read more…

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Liberation of Fornovo di Taro


How Brazilian soldiers hastened Nazi capitulation

The town of Fornovo di Taro in Emilia-Romagna acquired a significant place in Italian military history for a second time on this day in 1945 when it was liberated from Nazi occupation by soldiers from the Brazilian Expeditionary Force fighting with the Allies.  Under the command of General João Baptista Mascarenhas de Morais, the Brazilians marched into Fornovo, which is situated about 13km (8 miles) south-west of Parma, at the conclusion of the Battle of Collecchio.  The 148th Infantry Division of the German army under the leadership of General Otto Fretter-Pico offered their surrender, along with soldiers from the 90th Panzergrenadier Division and the 1st Bersaglieri and 4th Mountain Divisions of the Fascist National Republican Army.  In total, 14,779 German and Italian troops laid down their arms after Fretter-Pico concluded that, with the Brazilians surrounding the town, aided by two American tank divisions and one company of Italian partisans, there was no hope of escape.  Read more…

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Sara Errani - tennis champion


Five-times Grand Slam doubles winner reached No 5 in singles

Tennis star Sara Errani, who was born in Bologna on this day in 1987, is arguably the most successful Italian tennis player of all time.  She and partner Roberta Vinci's career record of five Grand Slam doubles titles is unparalleled.  No other Italian combination has won more than one Grand Slam title and no Italian singles player has won more than two.  Nicola Pietrangeli, who was ranked the No 3 men's singles player at his peak, won the French Open championship in 1959 and 1960 and was runner-up in Paris on two other occasions, as well as winning the men's doubles at the French in 1959, with fellow Italian Orlando Sirola.  But Errani and Vinci have won on all surfaces, achieving a career Grand Slam in 2014 when they triumphed in the women's doubles at Wimbledon, having already won the French and US titles in 2012 and the Australian in both 2013 and 2014.    Read more…

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Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini - painter


Venetian artist who made mark in England

The painter Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, who is regarded as one of the most important Venetian painters of the early 18th century, was born on this day in 1675 in Venice. He played a major part in the spread of the Venetian style of large-scale decorative painting in northern Europe, working in Austria, England, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.  With a style that had influences of Renaissance artist Paolo Veronese and the Baroque painters Pietro da Cortona and Luca Giordano, he is considered an important predecessor of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo in the development of Venetian art.  A pupil of the Milanese painter Paolo Pagani, Pellegrini began travelling while still a teenager, accompanying Pagano to Moravia and Vienna.  After a period studying in Rome, he returned to Venice and married Angela Carriera, the sister of the portraitist Rosalba Carriera. Read more…

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Rafael Sabatini – writer

Rafael Sabatini had been writing for 25 years before enjoying real success
Rafael Sabatini had been writing for 25
years before enjoying real success

Author of swashbucklers had the ‘gift of laughter’


Rafael Sabatini, who wrote successful adventure novels that were later made into plays and films, was born on this day in 1875 in Iesi, a small town in the province of Ancona in Le Marche.

Sabatini was the author of the international best sellers, Scaramouche and Captain Blood, and afterwards became respected as a great writer of swashbucklers with a prolific output.

He was the son of an English mother, Anna Trafford, and an Italian father, Vincenzo Sabatini, who were both opera singers.

At a young age he was exposed to different languages because he spent time with his grandfather in England and also attended school in both Portugal and Switzerland, while his parents were on tour.

By the time Sabatini went to live in England permanently, at the age of 17, he was already proficient in several languages. Although his first attempts at writing were in French when he was at school in Switzerland, he is said to have consciously chosen to write in English, saying at the time that all the best stories had been written in English.

A 1923 poster for a a silent movie version of Sabatini's  breakthrough novel Scaramouche
A 1923 poster for a a silent movie version of Sabatini's
breakthrough novel Scaramouche
Sabatini wrote short stories in the 1890s, some of which were published in English magazines. His first novel was published in 1902, after he began writing romances, saying it was more fun to write them than to read them.

During the First World War he worked for British Intelligence as a translator, while continuing to write.

It took him about 25 years of hard work before his novel, Scaramouche, became a big success in 1921.

The novel was an historical romance set during the French Revolution, featuring a young lawyer who becomes a revolutionary politician and hides out in a commedia dell’arte troupe, where he plays the character of Scaramouche, a roguish buffoon.

Scaramouche became an international best seller and was immediately followed by Captain Blood, which did even better.

The cover of a 1922 edition of another Sabatini bestseller, Captain Blood
The cover of a 1922 edition of another
Sabatini bestseller, Captain Blood
Sabatini’s earlier books were all rushed into reprints, including The Sea Hawk, which was originally written in 1915, but became a success much later. Sabatini continued to maintain a prolific output, producing a novel a year as well as his other writing.

In total, Sabatini produced 34 novels, eight volumes of short stories, six non-fiction books, several plays and numerous, individual short stories.

His books were made into plays and films during the silent era and some were remade in the sound era, although only some of the reels have survived intact.

Sabatini married Ruth Goad Dixon, the daughter of a Liverpool merchant, in 1905. Their only child, Rafael-Angelo, nicknamed Binkie, was killed in a car crash in 1927. In 1931, Sabatini and his wife divorced.

In 1935 he married the sculptor, Christine Wood. They suffered further tragedy when Christine’s son, Lancelot Dixon, was killed in a flying accident on the day he got his wings in the RAF. He flew over Sabatini’s house at Hay-on-Wye to celebrate and, watched by his proud mother and Sabatini, lost control of the plane, crashing it in flames in a nearby field.

Sabatini died in Switzerland in 1950 and was buried in Adelboden, a place where he had loved to go skiing. His wife had the first line of Scaramouche inscribed on his headstone: ‘He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.’

Iesi has massive 14th century walls that reflect its history as a former stronghold of the Sforza family
Iesi has massive 14th century walls that reflect its history
as a former stronghold of the Sforza family
Travel tip:

Rafael Sabatini was born in Iesi, also sometimes spelt Jesi, in the province of Ancona in Le Marche. Iesi was the main stronghold of the Sforza family in Le Marche until it was bought from them in 1447 by the Papal States. It was also part of the territory Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI, carved out of central Italy for himself during his brief career. Sabatini wrote several books about Cesare Borgia and his exploits when he was ruling that part of Italy. Iesi still has the massive 14th century walls that were built following the line of the Roman walls and six of the original towers are still standing today.

Hotels in Iesi by Hotels.com

The port city of Ancona is the capoluogo of the  Marche region on the Adriatic coast
The port city of Ancona is the capoluogo of the
Marche region on the Adriatic coast
Travel tip:

Le Marche, known in English as the Marches, is a region of central Italy that forms a narrow strip along the Adriatic coast. It is bordered by Emilia-Romagna and the republic of San Marino to the north, Tuscany to the west, Umbria to the southwest and Abruzzo and Lazio to the south. A railway from Bologna to Brindisi runs through the region along the coast. Ancona is the capoluogo, or main city, of the region.

Ancona hotels from Expedia.co.uk

More reading:

How Emilio Salgari's characters became part of Italian culture

A writer whose stories inspired classic Italian films

Why Alessandro Manzoni is Italy's most famous novelist

Also on this day:

1675: The birth of painter Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini

1945: The liberation of Fornovo di Taro by Brazilian soldiers

1987: The birth of tennis champion Sara Errani


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28 April 2019

28 April

Nicola Romeo - car maker


Engineer used profits from military trucks to launch famous marque

Nicola Romeo, the entrepreneur and engineer who founded Alfa Romeo cars, was born on this day in 1876 in Sant’Antimo, a town in Campania just outside Naples.  The company, which became one of the most famous names in the Italian car industry, was launched after Romeo purchased the Milan automobile manufacturer ALFA - Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili. After making substantial profits from building military trucks in the company’s Portello plant during the First World War, in peacetime Romeo switched his attention to making cars. The first Alfa Romeo came off the production line in 1921. The cars made a major impact in motor racing and, away from the track, the Alfa Romeo name sat on the front rank of the luxury car market. Read more…

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The death of Benito Mussolini


Fascist dictator captured and killed on shores of Lake Como

Benito Mussolini, the dictator who ruled Italy for 21 years until he was deposed in 1943, was killed by Italian partisans on this day in 1945, at the village of Giulino di Mezzegra on the shore of Lake Como.  The 61-year-old leader of the National Fascist Party had been captured the previous day in the town of Dongo, further up the lake, as he attempted to reach Switzerland along with his mistress, Clara Petacci, and a number of Fascist officials.  The executions were said to have been carried out by a partisan who went under the name of Colonnello Valerio.  From Mezzegra the bodies were taken to Milan where, after being kicked, beaten and spat upon by a mob of angry Milanese citizens, they were hung upside down from the roof of an Esso petrol station. Read more...

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Baldus de Ubaldis – lawyer


Legal opinions have stood the test of time

An expert in medieval Roman law, Baldus de Ubaldis, died on this day in 1400 in Pavia.  De Ubaldis had written more than 3,000 consilia - legal opinions - the most to remain preserved from any medieval lawyer.  His work on the law of evidence and gradations of proof remained the standard treatment of the subject for centuries after his death.  De Ubaldis was born into a noble family in Perugia in 1327. He studied law and received the degree of doctor of civil law when he was 17.  He taught law at the University of Bologna for three years and was then offered a professorship at Perugia University where he remained for 33 years.  One of the best works of De Ubaldis is considered to be his commentary on the Libri Feudorum, a compilation of feudal law provisions.  Read more…

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27 April 2019

27 April

Renato Rascel - singer, songwriter and actor


Film and TV star who wrote the iconic song Arrivederci Roma

Renato Rascel, whose remarkable career encompassed more than 60 movies, a hit 1970s TV series, representing Italy at the Eurovision Song Contest and writing one of the most famous Italian songs of all time, was born on this day in 1912 in Turin.   Rascel was Italy’s entry at Eurovision 1960 in London, singing Romantica, with which he had won the Sanremo Music Festival earlier in the year. Romantica finished eighth overall in London.  He is arguably most famous, however, for the song Arrivederci Roma, which he wrote for the 1955 film of the same name, in which he starred with the Italian-American tenor and actor Mario Lanza, which was subsequently released for English and American cinema audiences with the title Seven Hills of Rome.  Later in his long career, Rascel starred in the successful Rai adaptation of the Father Brown stories, by G K Chesterton. Read more…

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Antonio Gramsci - left-wing intellectual


Communist leader Mussolini could not gag

Antonio Gramsci, one of the more remarkable intellectuals of left-wing Italian politics in the early 20th century, died on this day in 1937 in Rome, aged only 46.  A founding member and ultimately leader of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), he was arrested by Benito Mussolini's Fascist regime in November 1926 and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment.   In failing health, he was granted his release after a campaign by friends and supporters but died without leaving the clinic in which he spent his final two years.  Despite multiple health problems, Gramsci still found sufficient energy while imprisoned  to study the social and political history of Italy in extensive detail and to record his thoughts and theories in notebooks and around 500 letters to friends and supporters.  Many of his propositions heavily influenced the political strategy of communist parties in the West after the Second World War. Read more...

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Popes John XXIII and John Paul II made saints


Crowd of 800,000 in St Peter's Square for joint canonisation

Pope Francis declared Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II as saints at a ceremony during Mass in Rome’s St Peter’s Square on this day in 2014.  Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world converged on the Vatican to attend the ceremony, which celebrated two popes recognised as giants of the Catholic Church in the 20th century.  There was scarcely room to move in St Peter's Square, the Via della Conciliazione and the adjoining streets.  The crowd, probably the biggest since John Paul II’s beatification three years earlier, was estimated at around 800,000, of which by far the largest contingent had made the pilgrimage from John Paul’s native Poland to see their most famous compatriot become a saint.  Thousands of red and white Polish flags filled the square.  Read more…

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Vittorio Cecchi Gori - entrepreneur


Ex-president of Fiorentina who produced two of Italy’s greatest films

Vittorio Cecchi Gori, whose chequered career in business saw him produce more than 300 films and own Fiorentina’s football club but also saw him jailed for fraudulent bankruptcy, was born on this day in 1942 in Florence.  The son of Mario Cecchi Gori, whose production company he inherited, he provided the financial muscle behind two of Italy’s greatest films of recent years, Il Postino (1994), which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, and Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful (1997), which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film.  With Cecchi Gori’s backing, Fiorentina enjoyed great times.  With such players as the the Argentine forward Gabriel Batistuta and Claudio Ranieri as coach, they won the Coppa Italia in 1996, their first trophy in 20 years, and went on to play in the Champions League for the first time.  Read more…


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Renato Rascel - actor, singer and songwriter

Film and TV star who wrote the iconic song Arrivederci Roma


Renato Rascel enjoyed a remarkable career as a  singer, songwriter and actor
Renato Rascel enjoyed a remarkable career as a
singer, songwriter and actor
Renato Rascel, whose remarkable career encompassed more than 60 movies, a hit 1970s TV series, representing Italy at the Eurovision Song Contest and writing one of the most famous Italian songs of all time, was born on this day in 1912 in Turin.

Rascel was Italy’s entry at Eurovision 1960 in London, singing Romantica, with which he had won the Sanremo Music Festival earlier in the year. Romantica finished eighth overall in London.

He is arguably most famous, however, for the song Arrivederci Roma, which he wrote for the 1955 film of the same name, in which he starred with the Italian-American tenor and actor Mario Lanza, which was subsequently released for English and American cinema audiences with the title Seven Hills of Rome.

Arrivederci Roma quickly became a favourite Italian song and scores of big-name singers recorded cover versions, including Bing Crosby, Connie Francis, Dean Martin, Dionne Warwick, Nat King Cole, Perry Como and Vic Damone.

Only a year earlier, Rascel had written the best-selling Italian song of 1954 in Te voglio bene tanto tanto (I Love You So Much).

Rascel performing at the Eurovision Song Contest in London in 1960
Rascel performing at the Eurovision Song
Contest in London in 1960
Yet, those achievements were just one part of Rascel’s career in the entertainment business, a life he was born into literally. His mother, Paola Ranucci, gave birth to him backstage in a theatre in Turin, where he and her husband, Cesare, both opera singers, were performing.

As Renato Ranucci, he grew up in his parents’ home city, Rome, and sang in a choir at St Peter's Basilica.  At the age of 14, he began to play drums in ballrooms around Rome before breaking into the growing comedy revue scene as an actor, dancer and clown. His first major stage role was in the operetta Al cavallino bianco, by the Austrian composer Ralph Benatzky.

In 1941 he launched his own theatre company and he began to develop a distinctive kind of humour that became known as ‘non-sense’ and which won him huge popularity. He made play of his small stature - he was only 5ft 2ins tall - becoming known as the il piccoletto nazionale - The Tiny Italian - and exaggerated his smallness by wearing oversized coats.

One of the characters he created for his stage act was called ‘Il Corazziere’, an irony based on the fact that the Corazziere division in the Italian army recruited only soldiers over six feet tall.

His style of humour was seen as ideal for the big screen, where comic characters were all the rage. His movie debut came in 1942 in Pazzo d’amore (Crazy For Love) and began a new phase in his career that saw him appear in more than 60 comedy or drama features.

Renato Rascel starred in Alberto Lattuada's 1952 film Il cappotto (The Overcoat)
Renato Rascel starred in Alberto Lattuada's 1952
film Il cappotto (The Overcoat) 
These included Figaro here, Figaro there alongside the king of comic actors, Totò, Alberto Lattuada’s Il cappotto (The Overcoat), which won Rascel a Nastro Argento award for his performance in the lead role, The Secret of Santa Vittoria, in which he had played alongside Anthony Quinn and Anna Magnani.

Rascel continue his film career well into his 60s, appearing as the blind man in Franco Zaffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth in 1977.

He also made his mark in a big way in television. When Rai began broadcasting as Italy’s first national TV network in the 1950s, Rascel was chosen as host for the first Saturday night variety shows, among them Rascel la nuit and Stasera Rascel City.

In the 1970s he achieved fame all over again when he was chosen to play the crime-solving priest Father Brown in a series based on the character created by the English novelist G K Chesterton. The series ran for several seasons.

Rascel died in Rome of heart failure at the age of 78 in 1990.

Carlo Mollino's modern auditorium is a feature of the  rebuilt Teatro Regio in Turin
Carlo Mollino's modern auditorium is a feature of the
rebuilt Teatro Regio in Turin
Travel tip:

The main opera venue in Turin is the Teatro Regio, which opened originally in 1740 and was re-opened in 1973 after a long closure following a fire. Architect Carlo Mollino created a striking contemporary interior design behind a reconstruction of the original facade. One of the oldest and most important theatres not only in Turin but in Italy is the Teatro Carignano in Turin, which is believed to date back to 1711, although it has been rebuilt several times over the centuries. Today it is owned by the city of Turin and is used mainly to stage plays.

The facade, designed by Carlo Maderno, of the vast St Peter's Basilica in Rome
The facade, designed by Carlo Maderno, of the vast
St Peter's Basilica in Rome
Travel tip:

From conception to completion, St Peter's Basilica in Rome, where Rascel sang in a choir as a schooboy, took more than 150 years to build.  Suggested by Pope Nicholas V in about 1450, at which time the original St Peter's was near collapse, it was not finished until 1615.  Although the principal design input from the laying of the first stone in 1506 came from Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Maderno and Bernini, contributions were also made by Giuliano da Sangallo, Fra Giocondo, Raphael and Antonio da Sangallo.  Michelangelo became involved with reluctance, ironically, after Pope Paul III's first choice as architect, Giulio Romano, died before he could take up the post and second choice Jacopo Sansovino refused to leave Venice.

More reading:

Why Totò is still remembered as Italy's funniest performer

The Oscar-winning talents of Anna Magnani

Mario Monicelli - the father of Commedia all'Italiana

Also on this day:

1937: The death of left-wing intellectual Antonio Gramsci

1942: The birth of the entrepreneur and film producer Vittorio Cecchi Gori

2014: The canonisation of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II


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26 April 2019

26 April

Michele Ferrero - the man who invented Nutella


Hazelnut spread that became a worldwide favourite

The man who invented the global commercial phenomenon that is Nutella spread was born on this day in 1925.  Michele Ferrero, who died in 2015 aged 89, owned the Italian chocolate manufacturer Ferrero SpA, the second largest confectionery producer in Europe after Nestlé.  He was the richest individual in Italy, listed by the Bloomberg Billionaires index in 2014 as the 20th richest person in the world.  The wealth of Michele and his family was put at $20.4 billion, around 14.9 billion euros.  Ferrero is famous for such brands as Ferrero Rocher, Mon Cheri, Kinder and Tic Tacs.  But, it could be argued, none of those names would probably exist had it not been for Nutella.  The chocolate and hazelnut spread came into being after Michele inherited the Ferrero company from his father, Pietro. Read more...

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Maria de’ Medici - noblewoman


Medici daughter who ended up ruling France

Maria de’ Medici, who became Queen of France after her marriage to King Henri IV, was born on this day in 1575 at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence.  After her husband was assassinated the day after his coronation, she ruled France as regent for her son, Louis, until he came of age.  Maria was the daughter of the grand duke of Tuscany, Francesco de’ Medici, and his wife, Joanna of Austria.  Henri had divorced his wife, Margaret, and married Maria in 1600 to obtain a large dowry that would help him pay his debts.  In 1601 Maria gave birth to a son, the future King Louis XIII, and then went on to bear a further five children for her husband.  After Henri was assassinated in 1610, the French parliament proclaimed Maria regent for her young son.  Read more…

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Samantha Cristoforetti - astronaut


Record-breaker spent almost 200 days in space

Italy’s first female astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti, was born on this day in 1977 in Milan.  A captain in the Italian Air Force, in which she is a pilot and engineer, Cristoforetti holds the world record for the longest space flight by a woman, which she set as a crew member on the European Space Agency’s Futura mission to the International Space Station in 2014.  Cristoforetti and her two fellow astronauts, the Russian Anton Shkaplerov and the American Terry Virts, left Kazakhstan in a Soyuz spacecraft on November 23, 2014 and returned on June 11, 2015, having spent 199 days and 16 hours in space – four days longer than the previous record for a female astronaut, held by the American NASA astronaut Sunita Williams.  Cristoforetti also holds the record for the longest time in space by a European astronaut of either gender. Read more...

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25 April 2019

25 April

Giovanni Caselli - inventor


Priest and physicist who created world’s first ‘fax machine’

Giovanni Caselli, a physics professor who invented the pantelegraph, the forerunner of the modern fax machine, was born on this day in 1815 in Siena.  Caselli’s developed a prototype pantelegraph, which was capable of transmitting handwriting and images over long distances via wire telegraph lines, in 1856 - 20 years ahead of the patenting of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone in the United States - and it entered commercial service in France in 1865.  The technology was patented in Europe and the United States in the 1860s, when it was also trialled in Great Britain and Russia, but ultimately in proved too unreliable to achieve universal acceptance and virtually disappeared from popular use until midway through the 20th century.  Read more…

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La Festa della Liberazione


Date of radio broadcast chosen for annual celebration

Today is an official Bank Holiday in Italy as the whole country joins together to celebrate the anniversary of the end of the Fascist regime with la Festa della Liberazione.  Every year on this day, the end of the Nazi occupation of Italy is commemorated with parades and parties and many public buildings are closed.  The Festa della Liberazione (Liberation Day) marks the day when Allied troops were finally able to liberate Italy.  The date for the national holiday was chosen in 1946. It was decided to hold the Festa on 25 April, the date the news of the liberation was officially announced to the country on the radio.  Marches and events provide an opportunity for Italians to remember their fallen soldiers, in particular the partisans of the Italian resistance. Read more…

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Ferruccio Ranza - World War One flying ace


Fighter pilot survived 57 aerial dogfights

Ferruccio Ranza, a World War One pilot who survived 465 combat sorties and scored 17 verified victories, died on this day in 1973 in Bologna, at the age of 80.  Ranza, who also saw service in the Second World War, when he rose to the rank of Brigadier General, was jointly the seventh most successful of Italy’s aviators in the 1914-18 conflict, and would be placed third if his eight unconfirmed victories had been proven.  In all, he engaged with enemy aeroplanes in 57 dogfights.  The most successful Italian flying ace from the First World War was Francesco Barraca, who chalked up 34 verified victories before he was killed in action in 1918.  Ranza served alongside Barraca in the 91st Fighter Squadron of the Italian air force, the so-called ‘squadron of aces’.  Read more…

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Leon Battista Alberti - Renaissance polymath


Architect with multiple artistic talents

The polymath Leon Battista Alberti, who was one of the 15th century’s most significant architects but possessed an intellect that was much more wide ranging, died on this day in 1472 in Rome.  In his 68 years, Alberti became well known for his work on palaces and churches in Florence, Rimini and Mantua in particular, but he also made major contributions to the study of mathematics, astronomy, language and cryptography, wrote poetry in Latin and works of philosophy and was ordained as a priest.  He was one of those multi-talented figures of his era, along with Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and, a little later, Galileo Galilei, for whom the description Renaissance Man was coined.  Read more…

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Giovanni Caselli - inventor

Priest and physicist who created world’s first ‘fax' machine


Although Caselli was ordained as a priest in 1836 he devoted his life to the study of science
Although Caselli was ordained as a priest in
1836 he devoted his life to the study of science
Giovanni Caselli, a physics professor who invented the pantelegraph, the forerunner of the modern fax machine, was born on this day in 1815 in Siena.

Caselli’s developed a prototype pantelegraph, which was capable of transmitting handwriting and images over long distances via wire telegraph lines, in 1856, some 20 years ahead of the patenting of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone in the United States. It entered commercial service in France in 1865.

The technology was patented in Europe and the United States in the 1860s, when it was also trialled in Great Britain and Russia, but ultimately in proved too unreliable to achieve universal acceptance and virtually disappeared from popular use until midway through the 20th century.

Caselli spent his early years in Florence studying physics, science, history and religion and was ordained as a priest in the Catholic Church when he was 21.

In 1841 he was appointed tutor to the sons of Count Marquis Sanvitale of Modena in Parma, where he spent eight years before his time there was abruptly ended by expulsion from the city as a result of his participation in an uprising against the ruling House of Austria-Este.

A model of Caselli's device can be seen at the Leonardo da Vinci museum in Milan
A model of Caselli's device can be seen
at the Leonardo da Vinci museum in Milan 
He returned to Florence in 1849, when he became a professor of physics at the University of Florence.  It was at this time that he began to study electrochemistry, electromagnetism, electricity and magnetism. He also launched a journal with the intention of explaining the science of physics in layman's terms.

Alexander Bain and Frederick Bakewell were two other physicists working on similar technology at the same time as Caselli but were unable to achieve the necessary synchronization between the transmitting and receiving parts so they would work together correctly. Caselli, though, built in a regulating clock that made the sending and receiving mechanisms work together.

In Caselli’s device, an image was made using non-conductive ink on tin foil, over which a stylus passed, lightly touching the foil, which conducted electricity where there was no ink and not where there was ink, causing circuit breaks that matched the image.

The signals were then sent along a long distance telegraph line to a receiver, where an electrical stylus reproduced the image line-by-line using blue dye ink on white paper.

In 1856, Caselli presented his prototype to Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, who was impressed enough to give Caselli some financial support, before he moved to Paris to introduce his invention to Napoleon III.

A 'fax' message that was transmitted between Paris and Lyon using Caselli's pantelegraph in 1862
A 'fax' message that was transmitted between Paris and
Lyon using Caselli's pantelegraph in 1862
Napoleon embraced the technology with great enthusiasm, and between 1857 and 1861 Caselli worked on perfecting his pantelegraph, sometimes known as the Autotelegraph or Universal Telegraph, with the French mechanical engineer Léon Foucault.

After seeing a demonstration of Caselli's improved pantelegraph in 1860, Napoleon gave Caselli the chance to test in within the French national telegraph network, providing him with financial backing. Among the successful tests was one between Paris and Amiens, over a distance of 140km (87 miles) of a document bearing the signature of the composer Gioachino Rossini. 

After a further successful test between Paris and Marseille, commercial operations started in 1865, first between Paris and Lyon line, extending to Marseille in 1867.

After patenting his device in Europe in 1861 the United States in 1863, and receiving the Legion d’Honneur from Napoleon in recognition for his work, Caselli oversaw trials in England and Russia, where Tsar Alexander II used the system to send documents between his palaces in Saint Petersburg and Moscow between 1861 and 1865.

In the first year of operation, Caselli’s pantelegraph transmitted almost 5,000 'faxes'.

Yet Caselli could not develop the technology quickly enough for reliability issues to be solved and eventually interest in it began to decline to the extent that he effectively abandoned it and returned to Florence, where he died in 1891 at the age of 76.

Although in the 1920s, the AT & T Corporation developed a way to transmit images using radio signals, it was not until 1964 that the Xerox Corporation introduced the first commercial fax machine of the kind recognisable today.

Many of Caselli’s patents, letters and proofs of teleautographic transmission are kept at the municipal library of Siena. Others can be found in the archives of the Museo Galileo in Florence.

The shell-shaped Piazza del Campo in Siena is regarded as one of the finest medieval squares in Europe
The shell-shaped Piazza del Campo in Siena is regarded
as one of the finest medieval squares in Europe
Travel tip: 

Siena, where Caselli was born, is famous for its shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, established in the 13th century as an open marketplace on a sloping site between the three communities that eventually merged to form Siena. It is regarded as one of Europe's finest medieval squares. The red brick paving, put down in 1349, fans out from the centre in nine sections. It has become well known as the scene of the historic horse race, the Palio di Siena.  Siena also has a beautiful Duomo - the Cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption - which was designed and completed between 1215 and 1263, its façade built in Tuscan Romanesque style using polychrome marble.

Hotels in Siena by Expedia.co.uk

Piazza San Marco in Florence, a short distance from the centre of the city, is the home of the University of Florence
Piazza San Marco in Florence, a short distance from the centre
of the city, is the home of the University of Florence
Travel tip:

The University of Florence, the headquarters of which is in Piazza San Marco in the centre of the city, can trace its roots to the Studium Generale, which was established by the Florentine Republic in 1321. The Studium was recognized by Pope Clement VI in 1349, and included Italy’s first faculty of theology. The Studium became an imperial university in 1364, but was moved to Pisa in 1473 when Lorenzo the Magnificent gained control of Florence. Charles VIII moved it back from 1497–1515, but it was moved to Pisa again when the Medici family returned to power.  The modern university dates from 1859, when a group of institutions formed the Istituto di Studi Pratici e di Perfezionamento, which a year later was recognized as a full-fledged university, and renamed as the University of Florence in 1923.

Florence hotels by Hotels.com

More reading:

Antonio Meucci - the 'true' inventor of the telephone

Innocenzo Manzetti, the inventor who may have produced the first prototype telephone

The Italian physicist who pioneered the alternating current (AC) system

Also on this day:

Festa della Liberazione

1472: The death of Renaissance polymath Leon Battista Alberti

1973: The death of World War One flying ace Ferruccio Ranza

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24 April 2019

24 April

Alessandro Costacurta - footballer 


AC Milan defender played in Serie A until 41 years old

Former AC Milan and Italy defender Alessandro Costacurta was born on this day in 1966 in the town of Orago, near Varese. Costacurta retired in May 2007, 25 days after his 41st birthday, having played more than 660 matches for Milan over the course of 21 seasons.  He is the oldest outfield player to appear in a Serie A match. Milan lost his final game 3-2 at home to Udinese but Costacurta marked the occasion with a goal, from the penalty spot.  It was only his third goal in 458 Serie A appearances for the rossoneri, but made him Serie A's oldest goalscorer.  He enjoyed a career laden with honours, including seven Serie A titles and five European Cups or Champions League titles. He also won 59 caps for Italy and was a member of the team that finished runners-up in the 1994 World Cup in the United States. Read more…

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Luigi Lavazza - coffee maker


From a grocery store in Turin to Italy's market leader

Luigi Lavazza, the Turin grocer who founded the Lavazza Coffee Company, was born on this day in 1859 in the small town of Murisengo in Piedmont.  He had lived as a peasant farmer in Murisengo but times were hard and after a couple of poor harvests he decided to abandon the countryside and head for the city, moving to Turin and finding work as a shop assistant.  The Lavazza brand began when Luigi had saved enough money to by his own shop in Via San Tommaso, in the centre of Turin, in 1895.  He sold groceries and provisions and where other stores simply sold coffee beans, he had a workshop in the rear of the store where he experimented by grinding the beans and mixing them into different blends. When the first automatic roasting machines went into production in the 1920s, he was one of the first in Italy to buy one. Read more…

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Giuseppe Panza - art collector


Businessman amassed more than 2,500 pieces

The art collector Giuseppe Panza di Biumo, whose fascination with postwar art, particularly American, led him to build up one of the world’s most important collections, died on this day in 2010 in Milan.  A businessman who succeeded his father in making money from wine and property, Panza acquired more than 2,500 pieces in his lifetime, many of which he sold or donated to museums and art galleries.  Some he parted with for millions of dollars, although he always insisted that his motivation was never financial gain but the love of art.  Approximately 10 per cent of his collection remains in the 18th-century Villa Menafoglio Litta, his family home at Varese, north of Milan, where he created 50,000 square feet (4,600 sq m) of exhibition space.  Read more…

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23 April 2019

23 April

Gaspara Stampa - poet 


Gaspara Stampa, the greatest female poet of the Italian Renaissance, died on this day in 1554 in Venice at the age of 31. She is regarded by many as the greatest Italian female poet of any age, despite having had such a brief life. Gaspara was born in Padua and lived in the city until she was eight years old. Her father, Bartolomeo, had been a jewel and gold merchant, but after he died, Gaspara’s mother, Cecilia, took her three children to live in Venice. They were accommodated in the house of Geronimo Morosini, who was descended from a noble Venetian family, in the parish of Santi Gervasio and Protasio, now known as San Trovaso.  Along with her sister, Cassandra, and brother, Baldassare, Gaspara was educated in literature, music, history and painting. She excelled at singing and playing the lute and her home became a cultural hub as it was visited by many Venetian writers, painters and musicians. Read more…

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Gianandrea Noseda - conductor


Milanese musician has achieved worldwide acclaim

Gianandrea Noseda, who is recognised as one of the leading orchestra conductors of his generation, was born on this day in 1964 in Milan.  He holds the title of Cavaliere Ufficiale al Merito della Repubblica Italiana for his contribution to the artistic life of Italy.  Noseda studied piano and composition in Milan and began studying conducting at the age of 27.  He made his debut as a conductor in 1994 with the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi. Among several positions he has held, he became principal guest conductor at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg in 1997, principal conductor of the BBC Philharmonic in 2002 and chief conductor in 2006.  The London Symphony Orchestra announced the appointment of Noseda as its new principal guest conductor in 2016.  Read more…

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Stefano Bontade - Mafia supremo


Well-connected Cosa Nostra boss had links to ex-premier Andreotti

Stefano Bontade, one of the most powerful and well connected figures in the Sicilian Mafia in the 1960s and 1970s, was born on this day in 1939 in Palermo, where he was murdered exactly 42 years later in a birthday execution that sparked a two-year war between the island’s rival clans.  Known as Il Falco – the Falcon – he was said to have close links with a number of important politicians on Sicily and with the former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti.  He was strongly suspected of being a key figure in the 1962 murder of Enrico Mattei, the president of Italy’s state-owned oil and gas conglomerate ENI, and in the bogus kidnapping of Michele Sindona, the disgraced banker who used the Vatican Bank to launder the proceeds of Cosa Nostra heroin trafficking. Read more…

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Ruggero Leoncavallo – opera composer


Writer and musician created one of the most popular operas of all time

Ruggero Leoncavallo, the composer of the opera, Pagliacci, was born on this day in 1857 in Naples.  Pagliacci - which means 'clowns' - is one of the most popular operas ever written and is still regularly performed all over the world.  Leoncavallo also wrote the song, Mattinata, often performed by Enrico Caruso and still recorded by today’s tenors.  Leoncavallo was the son of a judge and moved with his father from Naples to live in the town of Montalto Uffugo in Calabria when he was a child.  He later returned to Naples to be educated and then studied literature at the University of Bologna under the poet Giosuè Carducci.  Leoncavallo initially worked as a piano teacher in Egypt but then moved to Paris where he found work as an accompanist for artists singing in cafes.  Read more...

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Gaspara Stampa – poet

Gaspara Stampa is seen by some as Italy's greatest female poet
Gaspara Stampa is seen by some
as Italy's greatest female poet

Beautiful sonnets were inspired by unrequited love


Gaspara Stampa, the greatest female poet of the Italian Renaissance, died on this day in 1554 in Venice at the age of 31.

She is regarded by many as the greatest Italian female poet of any age, despite having had such a brief life.

Gaspara was born in Padua and lived in the city until she was eight years old. Her father, Bartolomeo, had been a jewel and gold merchant, but after he died, Gaspara’s mother, Cecilia, took her three children to live in Venice. They were accommodated in the house of Geronimo Morosini, who was descended from a noble Venetian family, in the parish of Santi Gervasio and Protasio, now known as San Trovaso. 

Along with her sister, Cassandra, and brother, Baldassare, Gaspara was educated in literature, music, history and painting. She excelled at singing and playing the lute and her home became a cultural hub as it was visited by many Venetian writers, painters and musicians, among them Francesco Sansovino, a poet and writer who was the son of the great Florentine architect, Jacopo Sansovino.

Gaspara dedicated most of her poems to Count Collatino di Collalto of Treviso, with whom she had an affair.

Much of Gaspara Stampa's best work came after she had suffered a break-up with her lover
Much of Gaspara Stampa's best work came after she
had suffered a break-up with her lover 
When he broke off the relationship she was devastated and suffered from depression, but she wrote some of her most beautiful poems at this time, creating for herself a lasting literary reputation.

Only three of her poems were published during her lifetime although many were circulated among her literary friends in Venice.

Gaspara went to live in Florence for some time because of poor health, hoping that the milder climate might help her. But on her return to Venice in 1554 she became ill with a fever and died after 15 days on April 23. The parish register recorded the cause of her death as ‘fever, colic and mal di mare', which today would be understood as 'seasickness', although the theory has also been put forward that it could have been a suicide.

The first edition of Gaspara Stampa’s poetry, Rime di Madonna Gaspara Stampa, was published in Venice six months after her death.

Gaspara’s 311 poems are considered to be the most important collection of female poetry of the 16th century. They were edited by Gaspara’s sister, Cassandra, and the edition was dedicated to the Florentine poet and writer, Giovanni della Casa.

The 19th century German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, refers to Gaspara Stampa in the first of his Duino Elegies, which were written while he was staying at Duino Castle on the Adriatic coast near Trieste. The Duino Elegies are now considered his greatest work.

Giotto's extraordinary decoration of the Scrovegni Chapel. which is one of the highlights of a visit to Padua
Giotto's extraordinary decoration of the Scrovegni Chapel.
which is one of the highlights of a visit to Padua
Travel tip:

The city of Padua in the Veneto, where Gaspara Stampa was born, is one of the most important centres for art in Italy. Padua has become acknowledged as the birthplace of modern art because of the Scrovegni Chapel, the inside of which is covered with frescoes by Giotto, an artistic genius who was the first to paint people with realistic facial expressions showing emotion. His scenes depicting the lives of Mary and Joseph, painted between 1303 and 1305, are considered his greatest achievement and one of the world’s most important works of art.

The two facades of the Chiesa di San Trovaso, the  centrepiece of the neighbourhood of the same name
The two facades of the Chiesa di San Trovaso, the
centrepiece of the neighbourhood of the same name
Travel tip:

San Trovaso is a neighbourhood within the Dorsoduro sestiere of Venice, just across the Accademia Bridge from the bustle of San Marco. At its heart is the Chiesa di San Trovaso, a church dedicated to the saints Gervasio and Protasio, rebuilt in 1584 on the site of a former church built in the 11th century. The church contains works of art by Domenico Tintoretto as well as his father, Jacopo, and by Michele Giambono and Palma il Giovane. The church is unusual in that it has two facades, one looking out across the Rio de San Trovaso canal, the other facing the Rio del Ognisanti. San Trovaso is also home to Venice’s oldest working gondola yard, the 17th-century Squero di San Trovaso, one of only two surviving squeri in Venice.

More reading:

Giovanni della Casa - the 16th century advocate of etiquette and good manners

Petrarch - the Renaissance poet whose work helped shape the modern Italian language

The death in Florence of English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Also on this day:

1857: The birth in Naples of opera composer Ruggero Leoncavallo

1939: The birth of Stefano Bontade, a Sicilian Mafia boss with links to ex-PM Giulio Andreotti

1964: The birth of orchestral conductor Gianandrea Noseda


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